Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Marine veteran J.C. Bowman in the studio to talk about what it was like arriving at Marine boot camp on Paris Island, South Carolina in the early 1980s.
Leahy: Today is the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. And in the studio with us right now, a Marine, J.C. Bowman. We’re talking about 18-year-old J.C. Bowman arriving at Paris Island, South Carolina in 1981.
You’ve just gotten off the bus, you’ve stepped in the yellow footprints, and now you’re going through, entering the barracks. You’re seeing the list and the images of the great Marines that have been out through history. Tell us what happens next.
Bowman: They really drill tradition and the history of the Marine Corps in there. They’ve really built the love of their country into that – why we serve, and what our purpose is.
Leahy: How many guys were on the bus with you?
Bowman: You have to remember, there are four platoons, 60 times. So there are 240 people to get off, probably at one time.
Leahy: 240 people?
Leahy: So you’re amongst 240 18-year-old, 19-year-old, and 20-year-old men at that time.
Bowman: And they break them down into four. You have four units.
Leahy: What’s the first thing you do when you enter?
Bowman: You sit down, and you start filling out paperwork. And you got to remember, you’re arriving there at about 2:00 in the morning. And so you’re getting there, and then by the time you get to bed, you get about two hours of sleep.
Leahy: What happens then? So when you say you get to bed, what’s your bed like?
Bowman: So it’s a rack, it’s an old-fashioned rack with metal bunk beds that probably existed since World War II.
Leahy: Is it sort of like, for those of us who have not served in the Marines, I watched Gomer Pyle USMC. They had the Quonset hut. Is it sort of like that?
Bowman: Yeah, not too far off of that. It’s a little more modern brick building and stuff.
Leahy: So you get to bed and then what time do they get you up?
Bowman: You get up about five in the morning and so it starts, maybe four in the morning. I mean, you’ve had really no sleep. And so you get up and the very first thing you remember, and I think if any Marine ever tells you the story of going to boot camp, is the sound of a garbage can being thrown down an open squad bay.
Leahy: This is what they do.
Bowman: And that’s your alarm clock. We joke about it, but when you hear that.
Leahy: That’s kind of an interesting sound, isn’t it?
Bowman: Oh, yes, it is.
Leahy: Did you know that the garbage can was coming?
Bowman: Absolutely not.
Leahy: But you heard it and you thought, this is not going to be good.
Bowman: No. And they yelled.
Leahy: You are in bed and you hear the garbage can rolling down the hall …
Bowman: And about 10 grown men or 15 grown men come flying out, probably the most, dressed immaculately, and they’re screaming at the top of their lungs, get up! Get out of bed!
Leahy: And so what do you do? (Chuckles)
Bowman: You get out of bed, and you move quickly. And that’s the main thing you learn. Move quickly.
Leahy: Is that it?
Bowman: Yes. Move quickly. Wherever you go, do it quickly, and they teach you.
Leahy: Your first day, you get up and what do you do?
Bowman: They’re going to march you. They’re going to feed you. You are going to get three meals a day.
Leahy: So that first day, what do you do? Do you go right to chow?
Bowman: You keep processing through, you go through the paperwork, you’re doing the stuff. You’re writing a letter to your mom and your parents.
Bowman: Saying, I have arrived. I am here. Please do not contact me. Sorry, Sally, I won’t be back for a while. Whatever. Writing a letter saying, telling everybody hello, we’re alive, we’re wild, we’re great.
Leahy: I’m loving it here.
Bowman: No. There is no I’m loving it here. It’s to let somebody back home know you were alive and you were filling out who your next of kin was. You’re signing paperwork. When I went in, it was $35,000 if you died. So you’re signing your life insurance policy and who is going to inherit that.
Leahy: So you’re an 18-year-old kid and you sign your life insurance policy worth $35,000 if you die. Who was your beneficiary?
Bowman: Oh, it was definitely Mom and Dad. So I was going to leave it to them. You go through all the paperwork. You do that. And then eventually what they do is they’re going to take you up and they’re going to break you into platoons. I was in platoon 2024.
Leahy: You remember that number?
Bowman: Oh, you don’t forget the number.
Bowman: And interestingly, later, I had a teacher that we had to represent at Professional Educators in Tennessee, and he was a Marine, and we started talking about our experience. He was actually the drill instructor at platoon 2025.
Leahy: No kidding? So a platoon consists of 60 members.
Bowman: About 60. There might be a little bit more, a little less if you make it through because you’re going to have people drop out yet who don’t make it.
Leahy: Now you’ve gotten the paperwork, what’s your typical daylight in the boot camp for Marines?
Bowman: When you first get through there, you’re going to hand you PTE. They’re going to get you uniforms. They’re going to get your equipment. They’re going to measure you. They measure you for your uniforms.
The Marine Corps has tailored uniforms. So you get actually measured and you get retailored, and your uniforms are there. And the final dressing is when you go at the end of your time there, your uniforms are tailor-made by tailors on staff in Paris Island.
Leahy: What are you wearing now?
Leahy: What time typically do you get up?
Bowan: The way it works is, you get to sleep in later the longer you’re in there. So ultimately, when you’re up there, you’re up at the 4:00 hour.
Leahy: What happens at 4:00?
Bowman: You get marched into the chow hall. You’re in your candy pants, usually, and I went in April. So you’re in a T-shirt, and these things called sand fleas, which are, I don’t know exactly what they are, but they’re gnawing at the back of your neck.
Do not slap them. Let them eat you alive, because if you slap them, depending on who your drill instructor is, you may have to bury a flea, and you may get in trouble. Do not get caught slapping bugs or anything else. It’s to teach you discipline. I have to tell you, at 18 that’s what I needed. I needed the discipline.
Leahy: What was breakfast like?
Bowman: To this day, Michael, I do not eat scrambled eggs.
Leahy: It was scrambled eggs?
Bowman: It’s like an ice cream scoop of scrambled eggs, a couple of pieces of bacon, some toast, and then they’ll ask you if you want this, for lack of words, I’ll call it SOS, but it’s some type of beef-chip gravy of some type that they put in there and throw it on there.
Leahy: You weren’t quite sure exactly.
Bowman: I wasn’t sure what that was. (Leahy chuckles) And then if you’re running late, they say you’re having duck today. You’re ducking in, you’re ducking out. You do not run behind in the Marine Corps.
Leahy: Breakfast is over.
Bowman: Breakfast is over.
Leahy: What happens now?
Bowman: You’re going to go exercise.
Leahy: Right after breakfast.
Bowman: Oh, yeah. You’re going to walk, and you’re going to go do some stuff.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “J.C. Bowman” by J.C. Bowman.